Pandemic puts Coop sports, activities on hold

FileIn this April 2019 photo, Cooperstown’s Chris Ubner winds up to pitch during a 12-5 win over visiting Little Falls.

COOPERSTOWN — The countdown stopped at “three days away.” 

Fans of Cooperstown baseball had been seeing the tweets for weeks, as @ccsbaseball2 counted down to the start of a highly anticipated baseball season. Assistant baseball coach Matt Hazzard had been enthusiastically using the team’s unofficial Twitter account to remind his team and the community that the school baseball team made the Class C state championship game last June, and had a promising season expected this spring.

Early Friday, March 13, Hazzard sent a tweet from the account showing a gif of a fan clapping with the message, “when you realize baseball is only three days away!!!” His next tweet, four hours later, was to let players know the team meeting scheduled for that afternoon had been postponed.

“It is just a whole different world now,” Hazzard said in a phone interview Tuesday, March 17. “We’re hoping for the best, but you feel very bad for these kids right now. They are texting me all the time, ‘can we still go to the batting cage?,’ ‘can we still go work out?’

“It is tough to prepare for a season that might not happen,” he said. 

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, caused by the coronavirus, no one is certain when life will get back to normal, let alone if or when school sports will restart. Officially, spring sports are only postponed in Cooperstown, where schools have been closed until Tuesday, April 14, the day after spring break was scheduled to end. Guidelines from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Section III athletics have also mandated a halt to spring sports, which were scheduled to have begun practices Monday, March 16.

Section III also has an April 14, restart date scheduled, but no one is sure if that forecast is too optimistic. Some Section III schools have already canceled spring sports, including those in the Utica City School District. 

The Cooperstown baseball team has plans to go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, during spring break to play games at Cal Ripken Jr.’s baseball complex, Ripken Baseball Myrtle Beach. The trip is still scheduled for April 7 through 13, and Hazzard said if life does return to normal, the team will go on the trip in anticipation of starting its season when school resumes. But the Ripken complex is closed until April 1, and no one is certain if it will reopen as scheduled. 

Baseball is not the only sport or activity affected. Cooperstown’s spring play, “Clue on Stage,” was canceled just before tech week was supposed to begin. The annual Fly Creek Philharmonic performances, which were scheduled for this weekend, were also canceled. Boy Scout activities for the month have also been canceled or postponed, including a suspension of the monthly bottle drive collection.

The Cooperstown girls basketball team waits for news, too. The team won the Section III Class C championship Saturday, March 7, in Syracuse, and was just two days away from beginning the state basketball tournament Saturday, March 14, with a regional final against Unatego, when the season was postponed.

Cooperstown coach Mike Niles said he was preparing for his mom’s funeral — Francis “Fran” Niles died the same day as the section title game; she was 83 — when he got the news the game was postponed. The team was at practice and he said he had to call them and be put on speaker to tell them the news. 

“They were stunned, disappointed,” he said via an email exchange. “They wanted to know if (we) would/could practice the entire time until there was a decision.”

Basketball practices were shut down, too. The NYSPHSAA released a statement Tuesday saying a decision on the winter playoffs will be released Monday, March 23. 

“I want to say there’s a tiny chance we’ll play, but that’s not likely,” Niles said. “There are so many other questions. I want to be definitive, but I also don’t want to wait too long.” 

Other spring activities have been rescheduled. Cooperstown’s biennial high school international trip, run by Worldstrides Educational Student Travel, has been postponed for a year, sponsor Jennifer Pindar said. The trip was scheduled for April’s spring break, with students going to Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. 

“It is hard to say (what to do),” Pindar said via a Facebook message. “We postponed, and it allows the families not to lose money. So it is the best option for us.”   

For Hazzard, who was diagnosed with lymphoma five years ago, the virus has an effect on more than baseball. He is cancer free now, but still has a greater health risks than a typical 30-something would. And his business, Leatherstocking Trolley, needs social events, such as weddings, concerts and Hall of Fame inductions, to resume services. 

“As someone with a pre-existing condition, with the cancer and everything, that is where I had to tell the kids, ‘Relax. We’ll get there,’” Hazzard said. 

“I think we are all just sitting here waiting for direction,” he said.  

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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